May 7, 2008 / 1:43 AM / in 10 years

Hollywood studios, actors break off labor talks

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Major studios and the Screen Actors Guild broke off three weeks of contract talks without agreement on Tuesday, stoking fears of renewed Hollywood labor unrest after a 100-day writers strike that ended in February.

<p>President of the Screen Actors Guild Alan Rosenberg speaks at the 14th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles January 27, 2008. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok</p>

News of the stalemate came in a statement from the studios’ bargaining agent, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), about 90 minutes after a self-imposed deadline for reaching a settlement had passed.

The AMPTP statement blamed “SAG’s continued adherence to unreasonable demands,” citing the union proposals to increase the “residual” payments actors earn for DVD sales as one of the key stumbling blocks.

Other differences singled out by the studios included union demands pertaining to residuals for Internet streaming of entertainment content and other areas of new media.

There was no immediate response from SAG.

The current three-year SAG contract covering 120,000 film and TV actors expires on June 30, but the union and studios have been under pressure to reach an early deal to dispel labor jitters that hang over the world’s show business capital.

The 14-week screenwriters strike, Hollywood’s worst labor clash in 20 years, shut down much of the TV industry, derailed several film productions and idled thousands of Hollywood workers, costing the local economy an estimated $3 billion.

SAG leaders have not sought authorization from rank-and-file members to call their own strike.

But prime-time television is still recovering from the writers’ work stoppage. And film studios are treating SAG’s contract expiration next month as a de facto strike deadline, postponing productions they are unable to finish by June 30.

The studios said they would turn now to opening contract talks with SAG’s smaller sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), which decided last month to negotiate its main TV contract separately.

The two actor unions had bargained together on their respective prime-time TV contracts for 27 years. But recent tensions between the two reached a boiling point in early April, and AFTRA suspended their joint negotiating pact to go it alone.

More than 40,000 of AFTRA’s 70,000 members also hold SAG cards.

While chiding SAG for coming to the bargaining table with a number of proposals the studios called “deal-breakers,” the AMPTP said it intended to resume negotiations in the weeks ahead, though no date for such talks was set.

“We hope that these three weeks of work have helped lay the groundwork for an agreement that can eventually be reached prior to June 30,” the studios said.

Many in Hollywood have speculated the studios were eager to begin talks with AFTRA, widely seen as less confrontational than SAG and more likely to agree to terms favorable to the industry, thus weakening SAG’s bargaining position.

Editing by Eric Beech

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